It’s a common assumption that the city of Buffalo, in the United States, has got to be one of the snowiest cities in the world. However, with only 232 centimetres annually, it doesn’t even make most lists. We’re also talking about the snowiest cities, not places, so we can’t include weather stations along the Rockies, Alps, Himalayas, and other mountain chains, which get upwards of two thousand centimetres of snow each year. Mount Baker in Washington state holds the world record for the most snow in one year, a staggering 2,896 cm!
But coming back to cities, the snowiest city in the world is Sapporo, Japan, which gets an average of 630 cm of snow each year. (Its own webpage claims only the 2006 snowfall, a modest 543 cm.) It happens to Sapporo for the same reason it happens to Mount Baker. The prevailing wind in each place picks up lots of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, and then runs into the mountains and has to dump it all. Sapporo celebrates its snowy heritage with a world-famous snow festival, complete with snow mazes, snow slides, and many, many snow sculptures. It is also well-known for its mountain meltwater, which is used to make rice wine and some of the best beer in the world.
Valdez, Alaska, is a puzzle. If the claimed numbers are accurate, Valdez easily beats out Sapporo as the snowiest city in the world. There’s no doubt that Valdez gets heavy snowfalls. Further up in the pass, 150 cm snowfalls are common. On the other hand, in the post-snowfall pictures of the city itself, the parts that aren’t plowed and aren’t shovelled look more like 30 cm than the claimed 300 cm of the storm. I’ve shovelled out 50 cm snowfalls myself, so I know what they look like.
During the snowiest times of year, Valdez doesn’t get the warm weather cycles which make snow cover settle and melt. Deep powder is one of its strongest selling points. Maybe the lowest numbers come from the city and the highest numbers are from Thompson Pass or the skiing areas? Or maybe the numbers are based on the record snowfall of December 2009? Depending on whose numbers you trust, the annual snowfall at or near Valdez, Alaska is either 875 cm, 763 cm, or 75 cm (which seems too low). Still, the snowfall is respectable, no matter what.
High in the Austrian Alps near the Swiss and Italian border, the little village of Damuls, Austria has been named the Snow-Richest Village in the World. At an elevation of 1.4 kilometres, just 0.2 short of a mile, Danuls claims an average of 9,300 cm of snow each year because of weather patterns which always stall behind its mountains. There’s no independent verification of that number, but there sure is a lot of snow up there, enough to sustain a year-round ski resort. No wonder Damuls has only 315 year-round residents!
Of course, no list of the world’s snowiest cities would be complete without Canada. Every part of Canada gets snow. Even the warmest Canadian cities still get between forty and sixty centimetres of snow each year. Vancouver, the warmest city in Canada, still gets the odd dumping of about 10 cm per snowstorm. To get snow each year is just part of being Canadian.
The snowiest town in Canada is Stewart, British Columbia, a small town which lies close to the border between Alaska’s Panhandle and BC’s Sunshine Coast. On top of the 572 centimetres of snow each year, Stewart also gets an extra 1,270 millimetres of rain! Before global warming opened up the Northwest Passage, Stewart used to be Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.
Stewart edges out the resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, where the skiing events during the 2010 Winter Olympics were held. The town of Whistler only has 411 cm of snow annually. Further up the mountain, the ski slopes get just under a thousand centimetres of snow each year.
The snowiest full-fledged city in Canada is Chicoutimi, which gets 342 cm of snow each year. It lies on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in French-speaking Quebec, a small, rural part of Canada which has given us two of our longest-serving Prime Ministers. Between them, Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney have been Prime Minister of Canada for twenty out of the last thirty years. When you spend every winter shovelling out that much snow, you learn about patience and endurance.
Even Ottawa, the capital city of Canada and the snowiest capital city in the world, normally gets around 200 cm of snow. There’s a few capital cities which are further north, but none of them even come close in terms of snow. In the notorious winter of 2008-9, Ottawa ended up just 3 cm short of its snowfall record of 411 cm. We remember that winter as the year the storms just kept on coming.
On top of all that snow, Ottawa also gets a lot of freezing rain. A couple of those ice storms have been bad enough to crumple heavy duty steel hydro transmission towers. One of those ice storms also struck Montreal in 1998 and kept on going for four solid days, until the ice was more than 10 cm thick. It took a month to get all the hydro going again and most of the year to rebuild everything.
Montreal is another Canadian city which measures its snow in metres. It sits in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, and all the storms follow the track of the St. Lawrence River.
It’s odd, but none of the snowiest regions in Canada are in Canada’s far north. It’s the same everywhere in the world. The snowiest regions in the world are not the coldest regions. We’ve come to realize that it snows the most when the temperature is between 0 and -10 Celsius. Once the temperature plunges to the -30s and -40s, the days are clear and cold and the skies turn a brilliant, dazzling blue, with very little snow at all!